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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/11/19

We Should Stop Insulting Animals and Own Our Own Humanity

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Sheep in Lake County, California, Spring 2019 [Photo by the Author]
Sheep in Lake County, California, Spring 2019 [Photo by the Author]
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The English language contains hundreds of idioms that mention animals: ants in your pants, bull in a china shop, clam up, fish out of water, free as a bird, the lion's den, like a moth to a flame, playing possum, quick as a bunny, squirrel away, stir up the hornet nest, strong as an ox, and many many more.

These examples are innocuous, but many evocations of animals are not, and that's my focus here.

Talking politics often includes unfavorable characterizations of one's adversaries and using animals to insult humans is very common in this context, both online and IRL. But this is neither fair nor accurate, and I often find myself tacking on a comment to that effect, such as: "Describing Republicans as rats is insulting to rats" or "Calling cops pigs slanders pigs."

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Rats are communal creatures who help take care of each other. Pigs are highly intelligent, with some scientists ranking them fourth smartest in the world, close behind dolphins and apes, and before cats and dogs. They are also clean and highly social. Neither one acts with the malevolent intent of either politicians or policemen. Instead of dragging these animals into the discussion, people should cut to the chase and say: corrupt, cruel, dirty-dealing, forceful, greedy, maniacal, rapacious, two-faced, vicious and unethical.

I extend my defense to the so-called "lower" animals as well.

For example, when Trump's election emboldened some racists to express themselves more openly in public, many commentators compared this to turning over a rock and revealing the creepy-crawly things underneath. In response to one instance, I wrote:

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I protest that simile; the creepy-crawly things who live under rocks are simply some of nature's creatures, living their own lives, and are neither malicious nor self-hating like human bigots. The comparison insults the poor, innocent Arthropods and Annelids.

Another time, I even came to the defense of pond scum:

I agree with your train of thought here. But calling them "scum" runs the risk of insulting photosynthetic eukaryotic organisms that live on the surface of ponds and who are entirely innocent of the crimes you describe.

Writer Upton Sinclair famously declared that "the two political parties are two wings of the same bird of prey." While this image is useful for illustrating the reality of partisan life in the USA, it denigrates hawks, falcons, eagles, owls and shrikes, among others. None of those birds are like the Republican and Democratic leadership, which is to say: deceitful, dishonest, fraudulent, guileful, perfidious, shifty, swindling, thieving and unscrupulous. "Two sides of the same coin" is more accurate.

We must ask: are predators in nature villains in the same way that politicians are in society? I would say not. In nature, predator and prey are both simply roles that are played by different creatures at various times and they are neither good nor bad; these are just the facts of life. In society, by contrast, the treatment of the poor by the rich, for example, is oppression, and is definitely unjust. A hawk catching mice is neither a good guy or bad a guy, but the general ordering the bombing of a village is evil. Calling the general a "hawk" is not only inaccurate, but it cuts slack for the military man, implying that he is somehow acting in accordance with nature. He is not. His is the behavior of civilized humanity, and we've all got to acknowledge that.

The unspoken assumption behind most animal insults is that animals are inferior to humans. So, treating someone "like an animal" is cruel and calling them "an animal" is disrespectful. But that's just anthropocentrism, which is some bullshit cultural baggage, not the actual state of the world.

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"Human supremacy" is a term we should use more often, as it describes a real thing with myriad consequences. In his book, "The Myth of Human Supremacy," author Derrick Jensen dismantles the concept quite effectively, revealing it for the set of irrational prejudices that it is.

As Jensen and others have pointed out, this is not merely a philosophical issue. Our elevation of ourselves above all other creatures has resulted in material consequences: animal and plant extinctions, decimated ecosystems, pollution of the atmosphere and oceans, all of it on a massive scale. We are threatening to render the planet uninhabitable to ourselves, perhaps abruptly. But even if we survive, it is already too late for many species and places.

A lot of people think it's scientific to consider animals "lower" on some theoretical ladder than ourselves, but that's actually a religious concept left over from the Bronze Age that we've never shaken. The book of Genesis which spawned Judaism, Christianity and Islam declares that humans have "have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth." But like we use to say in the '90s: "That's some whack sh*t." Furthermore, the contemporary social demographic that describes itself as "skeptical" is, pathetically, often no more than Victorianism with a 21st Century gloss; i.e., anthropocentrism ornamented with post-modernism. Which is to say, still dishing out the same crap.

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Kollibri terre Sonnenblume is a writer, photographer, tree hugger, animal lover, and dissident. Kollibri's work can be found at http://www.macskamoksha.com."



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4 people are discussing this page, with 6 comments  Post Comment


David William Pear

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(Member since Nov 29, 2014), 48 fans, 78 articles, 351 quicklinks, 3624 comments
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I think there is some real wisdom in this article. I have often commented that humans are an evolutionary mistake, which will soon be self-corrected. We are doomed to a very short existence by our own greed, lust, hate and stupidity. That cannot be said about any other species that currently or ever existed.

P.S. I could not help but notice that the author used the word "bullshit". Bull sh*t and the feces of other herbivores makes great fertilizer; dried it can be burned for heating and cooking. Whereas human sh*t will kill your garden. Which reminds me that the most dangerous bite for infections is from humans because of all the sugar and processed food we eat; the human mouth is an incubator for bacteria. So, human are poisonous at both ends of the digestive system.

Submitted on Sunday, Aug 11, 2019 at 5:55:07 PM

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Vierotchka

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With regard to human feces, you are not exactly right. When my family and I lived in the country, we had a septic tank to which our feces, urine and other waste water went. In the septic tank, bacteria broke down the solids, and from the second basin in the septic tank (to which the broken-down solids flowed) were long pierced pipes that spread out into the garden, and this fertilized the garden with great efficiency. We grew vegetables there, and our apple, pear and quince trees flourished and were generous with the most delicious fruit.

We clean our teeth regularly, and I have never had an infection from a human bite (I have been bitten several times in my lifetime). When the human bite becomes dangerous is when there are rotting teeth and rotten black stumps of teeth.

Submitted on Monday, Aug 12, 2019 at 12:39:56 AM

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Vierotchka

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We must not lose sight of the fact that we humans are animals too, we belong in and are part of the animal kingdom. We must not forget that we humans are vertebrates, mammals, primates, simians, and are members of the Great Ape family.

Submitted on Monday, Aug 12, 2019 at 12:33:30 AM

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Thank you, well taken. I just wish more people would start acting like animals.

Submitted on Monday, Aug 12, 2019 at 12:08:00 PM

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Chuck Nafziger

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"Night soil" has been used for millennia in vegetable gardens. One resource, "The Humananure Book," I downloaded free nine years ago, splendidly researched facts. I have also seen "square foot sh*tting" procedures for methodically making fertilized garden beds using one square foot holes, each covered by the dirt making the next day's repository. The Holy Sh*t brigade puts in composting toilets at skill shares and even art events.


I have also found pristine looking ears of corn, with nary a wrinkle in the skin of the corn kernals, in the midst of old, completely composted soil. The corn does not decompose, nor, I imagine, digest. The industrial food most Americans eat grows in deadly, pesticide, sewer sludge, and fossil fuel primed dirt, much worse than human sh*t. Silly humans now bio-concentrate toxins so it is even polluting to burn bodies.


It is long past time to start watching what we put into our bodies so we, and what comes out of us, can again be part of the natural cycle of composting.


"We are all compost in training," Ramshackle Glory.


Submitted on Monday, Aug 12, 2019 at 5:59:54 PM

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Dana Clark

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I just finished a sci fi novel called "Aurora" by Kim S Robinson. The AI in the story was tasked with writing a narrative of the journey from Sol to Tau Ceti and was having great difficulty in decoding human language similes and metaphors (English I assume). Language will always be a barrier to complete and universal understanding of the human condition, even for an AI from 2600.

Submitted on Monday, Aug 12, 2019 at 7:25:51 PM

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